Villa del Greco
Part 1: First Steps

I’d like to share some of the gardens we’ve built – not just to show off the results of our work, which I’m very proud of – but to give you a window into our world and the process of designing and building a great garden.

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We’ve designed and built a lot of gardens over the years, but choosing the first garden to present on this blog was easy. I immediately knew the garden at Villa del Greco in Montecito was the one because every aspect of the project, from the first meeting with the client to the ultimate realization of the garden, represents to a fine point the ebb and flow of what we do and how we relate with clients.

A portion of the garden as originally built – historic Black Acacia allee (looking west towards original estate house, now on adjacent property)
A portion of the garden as originally built – historic Black Acacia allee (looking west towards original estate house, now on adjacent property).

The house and garden were originally designed by the American architect and painter George Washington Smith. The core of the house was originally GWS’s studio, but the land was divided over time, changing the relationship of the remaining parts. The landscape wasn’t working anymore. Also, new elements—some less graceful than others—had been added to the property. Our client wanted to honor what Smith had done, bringing those design features to the forefront and expanding on them in a re-imagined version of the garden.

Back yard – looking north – before
Back yard – looking north – before

The garden was laid out with a formal primary axis which in modern days is anchored by a wall fountain and trellis on the north end and the house and adjacent courtyard on the south.  The historic Black Acacia allee was shortened on both ends with the partitioning of the estate.  The remnant of the allee forms the formal secondary axis of today’s garden.

Historic Black Acacia allee, looking east – before Tile medallion would be installed just past the gate in this photo
Historic Black Acacia allee, looking east – before
Tile medallion would be installed just past the gate in this photo.
Historic Black Acacia allee, looking west – before The allee continues beyond the property lines, as the original estate has been divided.
Historic Black Acacia allee, looking west – before
The allee continues beyond the property lines, as the original estate has been divided.
Statue of young Bacchus at the east end of allee – before
Statue of young Bacchus at the east end of allee – before

When I first met the client, I learned that she was a very knowledgeable gardener and an anthropologist by training.  She had researched the property’s history and was keen on honoring it. I knew right away that it would be a joy to work with her and that the project would be a jewel when finished, as our best projects always come out of a collaborative partnership, leading to the best possible garden for the space and for the client’s lifestyle.

We love the spirit of the original elements, but the few remaining pieces were in dire shape. We recreated this fountain and rill in the garden in its original location (see photo below).
We love the spirit of the original elements, but the few remaining pieces were in dire shape.
We recreated this fountain and rill in the garden in its original location (see photo below)
New tile medallion at intersection of primary and secondary garden axes. Refurbished brickwork, tile fountain and rill. Statue of baby Bacchus – east terminus of secondary axis – refurbished by Jolanta Kilmonite (www.restoreyourart.com)
New tile medallion at intersection of primary and secondary garden axes.
Refurbished brickwork, tile fountain and rill.
Statue of baby Bacchus – east terminus of secondary axis – refurbished by Jolanta Kilmonite
Rear courtyard – before
Rear courtyard – before

Those early meetings are all-important. I listen for the many facets of our client’s needs and wants, some of which are shared overtly, and some only hinted at. There’s no way for a client to be completely sure what they want their garden to be at the outset, although in this case, she was precise and observant, with a sophisticated set of goals. She knew where she wanted to spend time in the garden and knew which colors she wanted to see blooming.

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We developed a list of issues to address, chief among them creating a clear approach to the front door (pedestrian entry was through the driveway gate), an inviting courtyard at the front door (rather than the driveway coming smack up to the front stoop), restoring all original hardscape still existing, culling out elements that weren’t in keeping with period architecture (most notably two fountains) and a general all-round planting face lift.

Hope you enjoyed Villa del Greco!
xoxo    Margie


Sneak peak into our next blog post…

Villa del Greco Part 2: Inviting Entry

Front entry – before
Front entry – before photo

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8 thoughts on “Villa del Greco
Part 1: First Steps

  1. Great new blog Margie! Looking forward to enjoying more inspiration for my San Diego area garden & patio. Discovered you on Houzz last Spring & was inspired to create a drought tolerant backyard based on your designs, it’s doing great, inspite of the current drought.

    1. Hi Brenda,
      Thanks for your note — I’m happy to hear you’re finding useful material on houzz. Happy gardening!

  2. This garden has been very inspiring for a proyect I am have been working in! Thank you for sharing!

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